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M Ward: a Friendly Man, but not our Friend…Yet

Posted by February 29th, 2004 No Comments » Interview
Q & A With M Ward 
Interview By Kristen Rask, Newbie

It’s not a surprise that so many people want to be M. Ward’s friend. To be quite honest, I want to be his friend, too.

Ward’s music reminds me of the complexities of life, articulated simply. His lyrics depict many of life’s stories, both old and new, and his sound is timeless, making it easy to enjoy. Whether you’re sitting on your front porch on a hot sunny day drinking a gin n’ tonic or staring out the window watching the rainfall, his music just seems to fit. If you haven’t listened to M. Ward’s music yet, you should start immediately.

M. Ward has played with other musicians such as Cat Power, Yo la Tengo, Rilo Kiley, and Bright Eyes. On the rare nights he didn’t steal the show, he certainly left a lot of people wanting more.

Seeing him perform last July at Graceland in Seattle was very different than many of the shows I have seen at the venue in the past. Underage shows are typically crowded and loud, yet this time everyone was respectful and quiet. It was just M. Ward, his guitar and his baseball hat, and I have never seen a more attentive crowd.

This January I was lucky enough to meet M. Ward, who goes by Matt when not performing, for tea on a rainy Friday morning.

Just like the city of Portland, M. Ward is unassuming, kind, and calm. Every time I travel to Portland the fond memories of its charm stick with me for months to come. Since the day I started harassing Matt about doing an interview he had always been accommodating, thoughtful, and considerate. I wondered if he would be the same in person. And sure enough, he was.

As I watched M. Ward walk out the door I was left tongue tied and speechless. Talking with him helped me regain faith in musicians and in people. With the world so chaotic and messy these days it’s hard to take a deep breath, step aside and realize how much of it doesn’t really matter, and to have the strength to hold onto the things that really do.

M. Ward mentioned needing wide-open spaces and not being intertwined in the corporate web. However, unlike so many of us he has found his space, taken hold of it, and is running with it. Before you did music you taught children in Chicago and Seattle to read. Do you ever want to do that again?
M Ward: Yes I taught children, of all ages, mainly elementary, for a few years. I would absolutely do it again – maybe down the line sometime.

NM: Are you doing anything besides music right now?
MW: No, I’ve been doing just music for about 2 & ½ years. It’s not bad, I mean it’s basically starting your own business and I started it about 3 & ½ years ago so I can’t complain.

NM: Did you move to Seattle because of the large music scene or did you move there for other reasons?
MW: No I moved there because I liked the city and my sister used to live there. It’s on the west coast and I wanted to go back to the west coast. It’s where all my friends and family are. And I decided that I wanted to stay in the west. So that’s what happened.

NM: Did you enjoy living in Chicago?
MW: I did. It was a little bit too much of a city for me. I need more wide open spaces I think. So that’s why Portland is better for me – more room to breathe. There’s less going on up here and I like that.

NM: Do you think that helps with your music?
MW: I think it does. Having less stimulation. There’s not a whole lot that happens out here compared to New York, or Chicago, or L.A. I like to visit those cities but…

NM: So you met Howe Gelb and he signed you on to his label for your first album, Duet for Guitars #2. It sounds like you have worked with him a bit and have done other collaborations such as the Norfolk and Western album. Have you done any other collaborations? Are you interested in doing any others?
MW: Yeah, I’ve done a few collaborations. Right now I’m covering Beth Orton. Beth Orton is a singer from London.

NM: How does that work? Do you get in touch with people or do they get in touch with you?
MW: No, they get in touch with me. I usually just do my thing and that’s it. Then people contact me. Like Bright Eyes inviting me on this tour and that turned into a collaboration. The tour is two weeks in the Midwest/East coast on the way to New York and Carnegie Hall – so it’s revolving around that. Just different artists that are familiar with your record(s) and so they invite me to do things with them and I say either yes or no. I know their music before making a decision; I wouldn’t agree to do something if I wasn’t familiar with their music.

NM: You have also done some covers such as David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. Have you done anything else?
MW: Other cover songs? Yeah, yeah I like to do covers. That’s how I started playing guitar – learning other people’s songs. Learning Beatles songs. Playing those chord progressions and those chord progressions turns into other progressions and other songs. So yeah, I like to do cover songs.

NM: Do you enjoy playing shows?
MW: Yes and no. In general I like it. I don’t like being away from home that much. So it’s O.K. It’s a part of the job.

NM: When you are in the studio do you a follow a strict regiment, or a lot of times are you just messing around which then turns into things you really like?

MW: Yeah, it’s more messing around. If you leave yourself open catch some chaos and accidents they will turn into songs. Accidents turn into something.

NM: Since your last album, Transfiguration of Vincent, it seems like you have become more recognized as a musician. Do you think that changes your music at all?
MW: Not really. I don’t want it to. I definitely don’t want it to. I’m not really that concerned with the reaction to the music. I try to just stay focused on the act of making music. It’s still hard for me to know exactly who the audience is but there’s a small population out there who’s buying the records and going to see the shows. And that’s my job right there. You just do the best you can. I like it. Being popular isn’t something I think about really. It doesn’t affect any of my decisions. I don’t really think about it.

NM: How does the process of writing music work for you?
MW: It starts off with a guitar and ends with a guitar usually. In the studio. The 4-track is a big part of it. That’s where the songs start. You start layering from there but it all starts with the guitar.

NM: Is it a long process?
MW: Sometimes. It depends on the song. Sometimes a song will take a year to finish, other time just a day. It all depends on the song. I try to let the songs dictate where the next step will be.

NM: Have you ever had an uncomfortable interaction with a fan?
MW: Sometimes in Europe it’s a little bit more uncomfortable than America, but it’s not ever anything scary. People are just, well, it really depends. You have the attention of being an American out there. You don’t have that here. Same with Australia.

NM: What would be considered an uncomfortable situation?
MW: People wanting to be your friend and you don’t want to be their friend. You know, I mean sometimes you might; I don’t know. Its just people wanting to pry and I’m not interested in that.

NM: It’s funny, every interview I have read of yours, people have described you as being mysterious. Do you consider yourself a mysterious person or just private?
MW: That’s another one of those reaction things. People are going to react to it however they want and I don’t really have much control over it. If they think it’s mysterious that’s fine. I don’t care. I’m just doing my job. There are no pictures on the covers; I’m not really into that. I’m more interested in my friend’s (Tom King) artwork. That’s a big part of it I guess. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. That’s more of the journalistic side of things and I don’t really care about that stuff.

NM: Do you ever read that stuff?
MW: If it’s there sometimes I’ll read it. Usually the person who writes it eventually gets it back to me. It’s nice. I’ll read it but it doesn’t really have too much of a sway on my life or what I’m doing or what I’m going to do.

NM: What was the last book you read?
MW: Right now I’m finishing “Return of the King.” I’ve read that whole thing when I was younger and I’m going through it all again. I love that stuff. It’s so great.

NM: Last part: Just say, which you prefer:

Orange or brown: Orange.
Banjos or Mandolins: Mandolins.
Hemmingway or Steinbeck: Hemmingway.
Talking or listening: Listening.
Train or Plane: Train.
Coffee or tea: Tea.
Top 40 or new country: Neither.
Magazines or on-line magazines: Neither.
Willie or Johnny: Johnny.

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